Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Crossing Paths Contest!

I'm very excited to announce the first ever Crossing Paths giveaway contest! Details are coming this Friday. I'll give you a few hints to whet your appetite. 

First, to qualify, you need to be a member of the Crossing Paths Facebook fan page.

Next, you must be available the evening of Saturday April 10, 2010. 

Last, you must enjoy a taste for luxury.

Details are coming in the Photo Phriday post this week! If you're not already a member of the Facebook fan page, join now! If you are, but your friends aren't yet, they still have time to qualify for the fun! 

Stay tuned! 

(I've always wanted to say that)

Holding Your Pastor To A Higher Standard

You've seen them. You've seen the bracelets, license plate frames, t-shirts, hats. WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? I used to sport the bracelets. They were cool and colorful, and made a statement about the standard by which we are to live. But then it became trendy. It became like the yellow LiveStrong wristbands which were very cool, and a very good cause. But then it simply became a fad.

While I think the idea of keeping Jesus in our consciousness as we go about our daily activities is a good thing, I also think that we're conveniently setting ourselves up for excusing failure. In other words, Jesus was perfect. I am not. How can I live up to His standards? Why try? It's futile. I'm not going to kill anyone or knock off a liquor store. But that extra dollar the clerk gave me when giving me change at the grocery store? Well, I'll tithe on it. Praise God!

Here's a little litmus test that I think is pretty effective. If you found out your pastor was involved in the types of activities you were keeping secret, would it diminish your respect for him? The other day I wrote about members of a church singles group who were carrying on in a bar. Some find my attitude about such behavior as judgmental. Some would defend this behavior as OK in light of the fact that they go to church regularly. They might even be in some kind of church leadership. But then I ask, if you walked into that bar and found your pastor there behaving exactly as you were, would it bother you? Do you hold your pastor to a higher standard than the one you live by?

I grew up Catholic. When I was 13, I was at a youth retreat. The boys were in one dorm, and the girls in another. I don't know about the girls, but when you get 20-30 boys in a dorm at night with no adult supervision, you can expect all kinds of craziness. At one point, the priest came rushing into our room shouting at us, "what the hell is going on in here?" You could have heard a pin drop. He said hell, and not in the context you might expect.

When someone's vocation is as a church leader, we definitely hold them to a higher standard. It's human nature. But is it right? They're human, just as we are. We shouldn't put them on a pedestal, but neither should we diminish their responsibility to live in accordance to the high call of Christ. Instead, we should elevate our game so that we perform at a higher level. We should live at the level we expect and require of our church leaders. I am no less called to behave appropriately and glorify God in my life just because I'm not a pastor.

I hope you have a pastor who is a positive example to follow. If not, find a church where you have such a leader. But his walk cannot compensate for yours. You are still responsible to live according to the very same bible as Billy Graham. You may not be a pastor of a church, but you are every bit the same example to which people look in defining Christian behavior. 

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You Be The Judge

If I were a gambling man, I would have put money down on getting at least one response to yesterday's post accusing me of judging others. Sure enough, the obligatory warning was given. If you missed yesterday's post and the comment to which I'm referring, you can check it out here.

For whatever reasons, for which I'm sure you already have theories, people get really touchy when you dare to take a stand about certain behaviors. You know what? I'm OK with that. There was a time when I was more concerned about everyone agreeing with me. Now I'm more concerned with having God's approval. When I shared the story of a group of people from a local church getting their drink on, I knew there was going to be an invisible line dividing those who disagree from those who share my feelings. The common go-to response to a post such as yesterday's is the "do not judge" refrain. The warning was taken from Matthew 7, also referring to the well-used "speck" and "plank" in the eye.

To those who fall back on such an argument, I want to point out that we judge practically every day. If you find yourself breaking out into a cold sweat at the mere mention of the word judge, let me translate it into the more comfortable Christianese word, discern. We are to exercise judgment all the time. That doesn't mean you are to look down your nose with a pious heart at someone else. But we have to use discernment. Proverbs 3:21-23 says we must hold tightly to wisdom and discretion. You have to understand the difference between this and judging one's salvation, or criticizing someone else while justifying your own sin. I know it's the same word in English, but different meanings in different contexts.

If you're a single female and someone knocks on your door after dark, do you just fling the door open without even looking through the peep hole? Are there certain parts of town you avoid late at night? Do you have any particular standards when deciding whether or not you want to go out on a date with someone, and what activities to which you'll agree?

I hope the answer to these questions is "yes". If so, you are exercising wisdom and discretion. If you see people participating in an activity which would damage your character and reputation as a Christian, you are wise to separate yourself from them.

It is true we are not to criticize others if we do not hold ourselves to at least the same standard. We do become hypocrites if we criticize others for their sin when we've got a truckload of our own that we're ignoring. Yesterday's post clearly makes this disctinction.

If you read yesterday's post and your instinctive reaction was to defend yourself by dismissing the message and turning it around on the messenger, you need to allow yourself to be held accountable. You better believe I've got a lot of qualified people in my life who I respect who are free to get in my face if my actions are inconsistent with the beliefs I profess. My stable of close friends has a variety of people in it. No matter their age, gender or background, they share one distinctive characteristic. They each have qualities I admire and want to have in my own life.   

To close, I want to say something to two types of people. 

First, if you know where your weaknesses lie, (we all know where we are vulnerable), and you find yourself with a person or group of people who dismiss its sin value, find a different set of friends. It's that simple. You need to be around people who elevate your game.

Second, if you know a person or group whose activities and practices are inconsistent with the principles of an authentic Christian life, study and put into practice Galatians 6:1-7. We are to hold one another accountable. We are expected to bear one another's burdens. 

Finally, don't be afraid of whether or not people will approve. Instead, strive to please God.

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
 10Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:6-10

Monday, March 29, 2010

Christians And Bars

I have noticed a trend among many of my Christian peers which really disturbs me. I'll share with you a story of an experience I had last year, and then get on with my point.

One Friday afternoon, I was invited by a couple very good friends of mine to join them and a larger group of people they knew from a church singles group. We were meeting that evening at a Mexican restaurant. I love good Mexican food, so I decided to join my friends. I figured we would be sitting at a long table and enjoy a good meal. Much to my surprise, I got there, and everyone was in the bar. OK, maybe they're in there waiting for said long table to be ready. There were TVs in there, so maybe it was just an easy place for a large group to hang out while waiting. As it turned out, nobody but my two friends and I were there for the food. The margaritas were flowing and the tequila was taking its affect. At one point, one of the guys was going around the group asking who wanted to do shots with him. As they got louder, the other patrons were noticeably annoyed by the conduct of the church group. Once the festivities at the bar were concluded, the group made its way across the street to a nightclub for dancing, and presumably more drinks. My friends and I, instead, decided to finally have our Mexican dinner with some great conversation.

This story is a sad, and all-too-common example of what I'm seeing among many of my Christian peers these days. I see so many who treat their relationship with God like a day at work. When they're in church, like the office, they do their duty. They sing the songs, they nod in agreement with the sermon, and they bow their heads properly when they pray. But when quitting time comes, it's off to the party! We hear their profanity. We see their attitude towards others. There is nothing that distinguishes them as Christians when they're "off duty". Nothing identifies them as people who have been transformed by their relationship with Christ.

When Christians behave badly, the world notices. In fact, the world is quick to point it out to us. They call us hypocrites. We must understand the world wants us to be different. The insults that come our way when we fail is because we preach that we're different, but act the same. The world needs us to be different. We should stand out in a crowd. How can we tell people of God's life-changing love for us if we haven't changed? If someone was in that bar because they were struggling with their circumstances, how could someone have entered into a conversation to tell them of God's transforming love while gulping down shots?  How can we expect others to want what we have if we're doing the exact same things they're doing? 

The truth is, at one time or another, we all have been guilty of justifying sin in our lives. We have no problem pointing our finger and words of disgust at sin with which we have no struggle, while giving safe haven to some other destructive behavior in our own lives.

If you like a glass of wine with dinner, no problem. If you like to listen to music and dance, that's nice. But if you have become a chameleon, simply blending into whatever setting you're in, it's time to do something about it. If you're trying to do a balancing act between worlds, you cannot and will not experience the full benefits God intends for you. Submit yourself, truly, to God. He will not only give you a taste for His will and desires, but He will give you a distaste for the things which are harmful and unfruitful.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Romans 12:2


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Rerun: July 13, 2008

This week's rerun was inspired after a Sunday morning experience in San Jose, CA. As I re-read this post in considering it as a rerun, the mental and spiritual movie began to play itself over in my head. I hope this touches you in some small way, as it touched me in a very profound one.

Fingerprints of God

This morning in church, I sang the Steven Curtis Chapman song, Fingerprints of God. It's a very good song which is, in essence, a contemporary view of Psalm 139. I'll post a video below so you can hear it, in case you aren't familiar with it.

Because the song was embedded toward the end of the sermon, I sat on the platform so I could make a relatively smooth move to the microphone without being too much of a distraction to the congregation. From my vantage point during the message, I could only see about 1/3 of the congregation during the first service. In my absolute line of sight was a little girl, all of about 6 or 7 years old, confined to a wheelchair. It was plain to see that it wasn't a broken leg or something temporary. She is permanently and devastatingly disabled. As I looked out to her, even 20 minutes before we'd get to the song, my heart was deeply touched as I ran the lyrics through in my head while considering this sight.

My emotions were so jarred by the combination of the powerful lyrics of the song and the plight of this young lady that I barely made it through the song. I don't know if she heard a single word, but I sang that song to that girl with everything I had in me. Following the song, I left the platform, made my way around the back to make sure I was awaiting this young lady and her family as they left the sanctuary following the service. I had the pleasure of meeting little Hannah and her family. She's a precious little thing, and I will never forget her.

The world will look at Hannah all her life and see someone who is flawed, even damaged. But God created her, and He just doesn't make mistakes. Little Hannah touched my heart in a very powerful way today, and I'll never forget her. I complain about so many trivial things, and little Hannah had the biggest smile I've ever seen as I talked to her and told her how pretty she is. She is a masterpiece.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Photo Phriday: Air Show

Last September, I attended my first ever air show. It made for some very cool pictures, and a rush of patriotism. There are quite a few pictures from the silly to the awe inspiring. I hope you like them!

Click the photo below for the gallery of 140 medium sized photos from this great day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Encouraging The Encourager

I'd like to think of myself as an encourager. I really like thinking positively. It's very easy for me to do for you, but it can be a chore sometimes to think positively for myself. But I've really been working on that. Things don't always go the way I'd like them to, but I still know I'm blessed. I have many things for which to be thankful, even on bad days.

I've been writing about joy. I've been writing about being strong and courageous. I've been writing about daring to leave the comfort of the familiar for the unknown treasures of faith. I believe all those things passionately. But the other night, I was feeling a bit discouraged. I found myself frustrated about something which is still an area of vulnerability in my heart. 

Late that night, just before going to bed, I posted on my Facebook page that I was feeling a bit down. I even shared that it's sometimes a significant challenge to practice what you preach. Crossing Paths is undergoing some significant growth in terms of audience in recent weeks. Because of this, I have a more significant responsibility to walk the talk. If I'm going to talk about faith, joy, courage, strength and such, I can pretty much guarantee I'm going to soon face challenges in those very topics. That's just the way it works in ministry. It's not enough to say these things. You have to live them.

I had a very special experience when I dared to be honest about my feelings of discouragement on Facebook. I was hesitant to admit that despite trying to be Mr. Encourager, I sometimes need to be encouraged. But when I woke up the following morning after my late night "confession", I found these messages waiting for me from friends:
  •  "The good thing about living in Christ is we don't do this alone! Hang strong in Him!"
  •  "You are hereby granted grace and mercy, Corey, so that you don't have to struggle to 'practice what you preach', but can rest in the security of your relationship...knowing that you are loved and accepted regardless of ability to perform. then, out of that love and peace and rest, you will find the strength to succeed."
  • "I know what you mean my friend, dealing with problems and problem people can suck the life out of your joy. It is so easy to fill the void with anger and frustration. I believe that is why God surrounds us with good people and his love. With His and their support we will get out of the valleys. Stay strong and in faith, and joy will come to you. Have a blessed day!" 
  • "Matching Calamity and Serenity is only acheived through belief that I will be taken care of . NO MATTER WHAT..."
  • "I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that
    all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. John 12:46 (New Living Translation)"
  • "This too shall pass... Hang in there!"
  • "I definitely can empathize with you, Corey. When I feel that way, I keep chanting that famous phrase from Psalm 30:5 - "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning." I pray that a sunny morning comes your way soon."
Most of the friends who rallied to offer me encouragement are people I haven't seen in over 20 years. With the exception of two of the encouragers, who are brothers, these people don't even know each other. These messages came from people I really didn't expect. It was a real blessing to find these messages. They were special because they weren't the tried and true boilerplate responses. I found myself strengthened and lifted up with each message.

I have always said that I think you can tell a lot about a person by the quality of friends in their lives. I can honestly say that I have had the blessing of knowing some truly incredible people in my life, and I'm humbled. They have definitely raised my game. 

Thank you for reminding me of the wonderful blessing and necessity of great friends. If we're not yet friends, please feel free to add me as your friend on Facebook. As iron sharpens iron, we can work together to bring out our very best. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Comfort and Destiny

Yesterday I referred to the bridge that connects the "lands" of Comfort and Destiny. Comfort can be a rather misleading term. More often than not, the land of comfort isn't comfortable at all. More accurately, it's simply familiar. How many times have you heard stories of women who were abused by their husbands or boyfriends, but chose to stay with them? They don't stay because they're comfortable. They stay because their afraid of being alone and starting over. They're afraid that if they make a change, they will face greater danger. So they opt for familiar.

That is an extreme, but common example. In fact, we have all been there. We've all stayed in relationships of some kind that were toxic to us. Whether it was a friend we allowed to influence us in ways that were not healthy, or a job that was so negative and stressful that it literally affected our physical and emotional health. We've all experienced times when we chose the familiar over the unknown.

Some of you know the story of why I moved from San Jose to Rocklin. In short, I was standing face to face with exactly what I've been talking about. The choice to remain comfortable, or to chase my destiny. In the comfortable, I knew exactly what next year was going to be like. It was going to be just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. I hadn't been growing. But God heard my prayers about not wanting to be the same. I wanted to grow. I needed to grow. Rocklin wasn't and isn't my destiny. Being willing to step out of what was comfortable forced me to explore my own potential and gifts. After 18 months, I believe I am very different from who I was before. It wasn't about leaving San Jose. Nothing bad was happening there. I needed to prove to myself, and to God, that I was serious. I needed to take an extreme step of faith to make an extreme step of growth. My destiny isn't a place on a map. It's my character. It's my integrity. It's my maturity. It's in using the tools God gave me to make a difference wherever I am.

If you find yourself facing the choice of comfort or destiny, of the familiar versus the unknown potential you have in Christ, I urge you to go for it. Choose your destiny in Christ! It takes faith. Intense faith. But it brings tremendous liberty. And liberty is in increasingly short supply these days.

Go for it!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Thoughts About Bridges

Yesterday I wrote a few thoughts about bridges, since I seem to have developed a recent interest in them as photographic subjects. My previous post on bridges focused on some human parallels to bridges regarding our foundations being strong and rooted deeply.

Today, I want to discuss the fear factor of bridges. Recently, I took some pictures of California's tallest bridge, the Auburn-Foresthill Bridge. It stands 730 feet above the rocky riverbed below. It is not a terribly wide bridge, and can be a bit intimidating psychologically. In fact, a friend of mine commented on Facebook that she's never crossed it due to fear. If you're scared of heights, I can totally understand. 

How many of us are standing at a precipice? We've reached the edge of the land of Comfort, looking across to the other side, the land of Destiny. But there is a rather intimidating chasm between Comfort and Destiny. It is inevitable that as we travel, we will come to the edge of ourselves. We will come face to face with our limitations and previous experience. In order to further our personal development, we must be willing to cross that bridge designed to carry us across the impassable terrain.

It can be quite scary at times. The key is to focus not on our fears, but on our goal. Keep your eyes forward. It's a simple fact of human nature. Where your eyes are fixed, that's where you're going to go. If you get caught looking over the side, you're going to drift in that direction. 

Today, you're standing on the cliff of where you've always been, across to where you need to be. God has given you an insatiable appetite to grow and explore. Your fear of change must be overwhelmed by your refusal to remain the same. Fix your eyes on God. Fix your eyes on His promises. Fix your eyes on His word. Once you cross that bridge, you will never be the same!

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Few Thoughts About Bridges

I wouldn't expect you to notice, but many of the most recent pictures I've taken in the past couple months have been of bridges. There has been no explicit reason why. I mean, it's not like I've had this fascination of bridges that dates back to childhood or anything. I'm not an engineer who marvels at their construction. But I do see a trend. 

When I started thinking of bridges, I couldn't help but see some human and spiritual truths about them. For instance, a bridge's integrity is determined by how strong it's foundation is. Isn't the same true for us as humans? How many high profile people have we seen recently who have failed in the area of integrity? How many of us have failed in our integrity at times? When that has happened, what did we need to do in order to begin to put life back together? In order to find stability, we must be rooted in something stronger than ourselves.

In order for a bridge to be of any use, it must be able to withstand a heavy load. No one is going to trust a rickety bridge. If I have any aspirations to be of service to others, I have to be strong. Bridges are often made of the strongest materials, such as cement and steel. But it all comes down to the foundation. It doesn't matter what I'm made of if my personal foundation is an inch deep in sand. My strength can only be found in God. He must be my foundation.

I want to be a bridge. I want to be trusted by friends and strangers alike that I can see them safely from where they are to where they want to go. I want to bridge the gap that leads people to safety in their lives. 

The ultimate bridge is the cross of Christ. As we approach Easter, I'm reminded that what happened on the cross provided us safe passage from the wages of sin to eternal life. What greater bridge has ever been built?  

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday Rerun: One Year Ago Today

Today, Saturday March 20, marks the one year anniversary of my mom's passing. As such, it seems fitting to share with you the post I wrote the following day. If you've lost a loved one, I pray this comforts you as you remember them. If you haven't yet lost someone close to you, I pray that when that day comes, they will enter into God's presence peacefully and as ready as my mom was.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Here She Comes!

Last night, within 10 minutes of my completing a post about my mother's "transition", I received the call from my dad. It was 10:26 PM.

"She's dying."
That was all that needed to be said. The next thing I knew, I was slipping on some shoes that wouldn't require the time to tie. I grabbed the first shirt and pair of jeans I could find, and I was out the door.

At 11:01 PM on March 20, 2009, I was pulling off the exit to their house. Just then, my phone rang again.

"She's gone."
I prayed as I raced down I-80 and Highway 99 that she would hang on until I got there, but she was ready to go. The final stage of her transition didn't last as agonizingly long as we were told it could. We're told that those who cling to life, those who are afraid to die, hang on and suffer. Those who go quickly are at peace, knowing their job is done.

At different times, in different ways, we each released her. We each told her that her job was done.

For the past several weeks, I mentally had this particular post crafted already. In all honesty, I only had the ending of it ready. The first part was waiting to be written, and God wrote it last night. I just interpreted it in the first half of this post.

My planned closing to this post is about the short story Hospice gave us. I'll share it with you, in my words. It's about us standing on the seashore watching a ship disappearing into the horizon. We watch it seemingly get smaller and smaller as it drifts further and further away. Then finally, she's gone from our sight. At that moment, we say "there she goes."

However, on the other side of that horizon is her eternal home. Those who are there, ready to celebrate her arrival, shout, "HERE SHE COMES!"

Goodbye for now, Mom. I'll always be your baby, and I'll always be proud to be so!

Enter into your rest, good and faithful servant!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Photo Phriday

Here are some pictures I took on Monday. They are of, and from the Foresthill Bridge in Auburn. It has the distinction of being California's tallest bridge, and the third tallest in the entire country at 730 feet! The Golden Gate Bridge, by comparison, is only a wimpy 220 feet above the water.

These are but a few pictures, but here is a link to the entire gallery from this set of pictures. You can even choose to watch them as a slide show. I hope you enjoy them.

Please remember to come back tomorrow for a very special Saturday Rerun.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

God's Compassion, Your Action

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John  include accounts of 35 miracles performed by Jesus in His ministry. What I have always been fascinated by is that only one of them appears in each of these four books. I don't claim to know why this one has this distinction, but I figure there is a reason. I look forward to asking that question when I'm in heaven.

Jesus had been traveling the countryside ministering and preaching. As His ministry grew, so did the crowd that followed Him. At this one particular point, the crowd had grown to 5,000 men. This wasn't a Man Cave event or anything, so there were also women and children there. So needless to say, it was a significant crowd. These people were amazed by what Jesus had been doing, and were willing to drop everything to follow Him. 

The disciples were very concerned because they had no way to facilitate such a crowd. They had suggested they simply dismiss everyone to go find a Subway sandwich shop or In 'n Out, but Jesus had compassion on them. He asked the disciples what their resources were. They reported to him they had five loaves of bread and a couple fish. 

Jesus took what they had, looked to heaven, gave thanks, then gave it over to the disciples to begin distributing to the folks. Not only was there enough food to go around so everyone could eat "as much as they wanted", but there were leftovers!

First, Jesus had compassion on the people. It would have been easy to just let everyone take off, get food and return later. But Jesus already had a bigger plan which He knew would leave an impression on the authors of the four gospels, not to mention the thousands in attendance. Compassion is inspiring. When your heart is touched in a profound way, you can't sleep. You are consumed and compelled into action. 

Next, Jesus looked to heaven. In this context, the word looked means gaining sight. As if one were blind, but now had received sight. Jesus' perspective changed from human to heavenly. From natural to supernatural. From limited to limitless.

Thirdly, Jesus gave thanks. He knew God would provide for them the abundance which would come from the meager. God can take what little we have to offer, and expand it's potential to overflowing.

Finally, Jesus gave it to the disciples to feed the people. When God intervenes, He chooses us to touch the lives of those upon whom His compassion falls. 

You already know the situations which touch your heart. That burning sense of compassion you have is God's love for His children that won't let you sleep. Follow these steps as Jesus did. Take what little you have, get a heavenly perspective, thank God for what He is doing and will do, and get out there and "feed". Bring your friends. Even if they don't get it, even if they don't share your passion...they will once they see what is happening before them.

God wants to use you!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Foul Weather Friends

Right now, I have a couple friends who are really going through some serious difficulties. Life can be so cruel at times. These friends are such wonderful people. They're kind. They're generous. They're selfless. They're loyal. 

They're feeling beaten down.

I don't like that bad things happen to good people. I don't like that good things happen to bad people. But that is life, and God told us there would be days like these. I shudder to think that it wouldn't be much of a stretch for my life to cave in within the next 12 hours. Who can say?

All I know for sure is that if we're not going through the paper shredder of life right now, it's inevitable that we will at some point. At any given time, we're only one degree of separation from someone who is going through it. When that is the case, it's rally time. It's up to us to offer ourselves to mourn with those who mourn. We need to give our support to those in need. We need to be encouraging. It's not enough to just say the right things and move on.

Ecclesiastes 4:10 states very clearly how miserable it would be to be alone in times of trials. Verse 10 tells us that there are times we need someone there to pick us up off the canvas. There are times when we are so beaten down, it would require the strength of a friend to get us back on our feet. 

Tomorrow, I am going to go more in depth about how God performs miracles and chooses to use us to distribute them. But for this moment, I want to leave you with the thought that God doesn't need us in order for someone to know His love. But it is not good for us to be alone in life. And it is especially bad when we're going through difficulties without the support and strength of a good friend. It's easy to be a fair weather friend. A true friend is willing to get soaked while helping you through the storms.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Self-Control: The Anger Edition

As a follow up to yesterday's post about chasing emotional highs, I want to focus on the destructive emotion of anger. The bible states numerous times that we should be slow to anger. Proverbs 16:32 states that it's better to control your anger than to mightily take a city. For many, it's probably easier to take a city. Proverbs 14:29, the quick-tempered man is basically called a fool, as compared to one who is patient who has "great understanding". Proverbs 19:11 says that a wise man is patient, and brings honor to himself when he forgives. 

I have known many people who lack the ability to control their impulsive behavior in this way. The one thing you can't tell an angry person is, "calm down". Boy, that sets them off even more. I have to admit, I cannot understand the inability to edit thoughts so that your actions and words won't injure others. I have seen it so many times. People use their words like a balled up fist in order to pummel the object of their wrath. I am not saying I don't understand it because I'm so wonderful. It's not to say that certain situations or people haven't pushed my buttons. I have had my own experiences where I have lost some measure of control and said or done things which were a departure from my natural behavior. But I don't recall ever being so angry that I have said or done something for the express purpose of hurting someone.

2 Peter 1:5-8 lists the qualities we must acquire and master in order to achieve maturity in our behavior and to demonstrate love. Self-control is the key in this list. We must have goodness and knowledge, but self-control is making the choice to crucify your flesh, your instinctive reaction and instead applying your knowledge of right versus wrong. When we practice self-control, we will demonstrate the next levels of maturity. It is impossible to skip over self-control and achieve perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and ultimately, love. Godliness, kindness and love are all expressions of humility, which and only come after you have developed self-control.

If you struggle with anger, I strongly recommend committing 2 Peter 1:5-8 to memory. Write down the qualities listed in it and work on developing them. It is only in doing this that you will conquer your destructive impulses, and demonstrate the grace and forgiveness for which Jesus died to give you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chasing It

Chronic gamblers know the feeling. It's a relentless compulsion that overtakes them to beg, borrow, mortgage or steal money to put down on the next "sure thing". They get a rush out of the exhilaration of winning after they've laid it all on the line. This is called "chasing it". This phenomenon is very similar to one I have seen in so many people in the church for decades. 

It is my contention that many people who have come and gone from the Christian faith had the spiritual strain of the "chasing it" virus. I have seen so many who need the mountaintop experiences of life in order to keep them strong in their faith. Unfortunately, these experiences cannot be sustained. It's simply not possible. When life happens, they don't go digging into God's word or spend time in prayer. Instead, they look for some conduit which will transport them to their next spiritual euphoria. So many wolves in sheep's clothing have preyed upon this brand of people by promising them the emotional high they so desperately seek. So many theatrical "preachers" have gone on TV and appeared in all the big arenas applying their trade which have left more destruction in their wake than anything of value.

We are human. Emotional experiences are a manifestation of triumph and tragedy in our lives. There's nothing wrong with that. However, in serving God, we are not to go "chasing it".

Despite how our culture has defined joy, it is not about always being happy. When my mom passed away one year ago this week, believe me, I wasn't happy about it. I knew she was finally whole and in the presence of Jesus, but I was sad for my personal loss. Joy was the peace I had in knowing two things. My mom was with Jesus, and Jesus was with me. 

Philippians 4:4-8 says this;

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

When, not if, but when you find your faith and emotional gas tank on empty, follow these three steps: 
  1. Rejoice in the knowledge of God's love for you. God's value and His love for you doesn't fluctuate based on your circumstances.
  2. Don't take it out on others. Be humble and gentle to everyone. Take comfort in knowing God is with you and He knows your hurt.
  3. Don't stress out. Rather than worry, pray with a thankful heart. He knows your heart. He wants to bless you. He wants you to give it to Him.
When you do these things, you will find that your instinctive nature will fall subject to God's nature. You will find peace which defies human logic. When you put God first, He will do what only He is capable of doing and He will protect you and work on your behalf.  Frankly, I prefer what He can do over what I can without exception.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His Glory and Grace.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday Reruns

Many of my Crossing Paths readers have just come along within the past few weeks or months, but CP has been around since July of 2008. With that being the case, I will begin to feature "reruns" of posts from days of yore. Well, relative yore, that is. This week's rerun was originally posted on July 15, 2008. This was less than two weeks before I relocated from San Jose to Rocklin, CA. It's called Success vs. Significance.

Life can be a very delicate thing as a noun, but as a verb, it's quite powerful. The noun of life can be snuffed out in an instant with one careless mistake or fluke, no matter how healthy or powerful one may be. However, the verb life can not only add quality and substance to the noun of life, but it can actually last longer than the noun.

This past Sunday, Pastor Art Gorman delivered a message about our need to be significant. One point he made that has been resonating in my heart and mind is how to not get trapped in striving for success, but instead, living a life of significance. So many in our generation seem hell bent on striving for financial, material and professional success. While there is nothing wrong on the surface with pursuing excellence in everything we do, it's a hollow existence to have our success be our significance.

I want a life of significance. One of the things I'm most afraid of in moving from San Jose is the overwhelming task of completely starting over. Building a reputation from scratch. I guess I had to do that when I moved to San Jose, but for whatever reason, that didn't bother me. Maybe that was because I was a relatively young man of 31 when I relocated to the South Bay. I'm now 43.

Significance isn't standing in front of thousands of people and singing a song. Significance is impacting thousands of at a time.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Photo Phriday

This week, I'm launching a couple new features on Crossing Paths. One will become a new Friday tradition, the other will be on Saturdays (so tune in tomorrow!) 

I am pretty much a hack at photography, but I do enjoy taking pictures. I have a very nice camera for someone of my questionable abilities, so technology atones for my inadequacies. So a new feature I'd like to roll out is what I'm calling Photo Phriday. My aim is to take pictures each week and share at least some of them with you on Fridays. I reserve the right to instead post photos in my archives that I took months or even years ago, but the point is, I'll try to post some each week.

These pictures are ones I took this week. They are of the north fork of the American River on Highway 49 outside Auburn, CA.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lifestyle Evangelism

"Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words." This statement is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, and to me is the most profound, succinct and effective method of evangelism. 

I remember one night in April of 1983 when I was sitting in my bedroom with a friend of mine. This was following a night out with a group of high school friends from the church I was attending with my parents. Our church was in another town, so none of the kids went to the same school I did. Up to that point, I was kind of attending church against my will. I had developed a talent over the years of being able to tune out teachers or pretty much anyone who was talking about stuff I didn't want to hear. I could look them dead in the eyes and hear nothing. I had been doing that pretty consistently in church when my parents made it mandatory for me to go. 

But this one night in my room, I sat with my friend and peppered her with a hundred questions about Christianity. Not so much theological questions, but lifestyle questions. I wanted to know what I was considering signing up for. I didn't know what I was going to have to give up in order to take this step. She assured me numerous times and ways that you come as you are. God will take care of things in His time.

The friends I had made in this church were so good to me. They never once treated me as an outsider. They never made me uncomfortable by asking me probing questions about my beliefs. They never brought up topics that would exclude me or make me uncomfortable. Instead, they invited me to just about everything they did. What was particularly refreshing was that their conversation and their actions were completely consistent with what they believed, but they were totally normal people. You see, my thoughts about Christians were that they were all boring and prudish. This group was anything but boring.

Consistency is what it's all about. I put these people through microscopes and x-rays. I watched and listened to everything. And they were exactly what they proclaimed to be. No more, no less. Now, all these years later, I still do my best to apply these very same qualities in my life. As Christians, we are held to a higher standard. This may seem unfair at times, but it's true nonetheless. Look at the way Christians are portrayed in movies and on television. Look at the way the media pounces on Christians who are caught in some kind of indiscretion. But we bring a lot of the negativity down on ourselves. We can be so judgmental, while at the same time, behaving inconsistently with what we profess.

What story is your life preaching right now? Is it consistent with one who professes to be a follower of Christ? Or do you participate in activities that would confuse others about what you really stand for?

You already know the answer. This topic doesn't come to you as a surprise. If you don't pay your car loan, you can't be surprised and angry when the repo guy shows up at your door. If you're doing things you shouldn't be doing, you can't be shocked when God speaks to you about it.

It's time to commit to living consistently with what you profess. It's time to live a lifestyle that preaches the love of Christ.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Road Less Traveled Has, In Fact, Been Traveled

The other day I whimsically posted on my Twitter page that my daily travels had taken me through the towns of Cool, Lotus and Rescue, CA. I had never heard of these towns and had no clue they existed. Yet all are within 45 minutes of where I live. These towns didn't have so much as a Starbucks or movie theater. They reminded me of towns I've passed through in the backroads of Arkansas or West Virginia. These towns are great because they're so close, but also a million miles away.

What surprised me most was that I have a number of friends on Facebook who saw this comment and noted not only that they had heard of these towns, but some had either lived there at one time, or are considering moving there in the near future. This served as an illustration to me that by this stage of my life, there is virtually no human experience that I can go through that someone I know hasn't already been through, or is there now. No single person has gone through all I've experienced, but as a collective whole, as a conglomeration, someone who has touched my life in some way has gone through things I had never experienced before.

I take great comfort in knowing that I have a Heavenly Father who is by my side no matter where I go (read Psalm 139). But I'm also thankful that He provides me human tour guides who know the terrain. They can advise me of the things to see and do. They can warn me of the things to avoid. They can help me navigate my way through these circumstances because they've been there.

No matter where you are, no matter what you face, you probably know someone who has been there and done that. God has blessed you with relationships. Surround yourself with people of wisdom and experience. On the other side of the same coin, make yourself available to those who could benefit from your experience. Be willing not just to say do this and don't do that, but be willing to walk along side them. 

I've recently created a Crossing Paths group on Facebook. It's my hope that it will become a community for this very thing. That paths would cross between people who otherwise might never meet, but we can all benefit from the collective experiences. I know your experiences inspire and challenge me, and they comfort me in times when I wonder if anyone would understand. There is even a Discussion tab where you can start a discussion. Ask a question, post an opinion. Get the conversation rolling. You must might be surprised and blessed by the outcome.

If you're not already part of the community, consider this your personal invitation! Someone there may need you!


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pay Attenion To The Man Behind The Curtain

Up until a couple years ago, my life was in a pretty serious rut. It wasn't anything bad. It's just that each year was pretty much like the movie Ground Hog's Day. Each year pretty much was just like the one before it. 

My prayer had been for years that I didn't want to be in the same place next year. Just like your parents did when you were little by marking your growth with pencil marks on the door jamb, I wanted to be able to mark my own personal development. But it seemed that there wasn't any discernible growth. I wasn't being challenged or stretched in any tangible way.

I was very comfortable in my environment. I had carved out a niche in my life, and pretty much walked in it daily. That's fine. Nothing wrong with that. But all I had done was refined the same old thing I had been doing for years.

Finally, God made me a proposition. He gave me the option to stay where I was, or to take a bold and blind step of faith. I could continue doing what I was doing, which wasn't bad stuff. Or, I could venture into a new frontier as far as my life was concerned. I see they've resurrected the game show I remember as a child, Let's Make A Deal. In a sense, this is where I was. I could take the prize that I could see very clearly. I knew exactly what I was getting. It was safe. It was familiar. Or I could take what was behind the curtain. I had no idea what was on the other side, except for the assurance that whatever it was, God was behind it. 

I chose the curtain.

If you find yourself in a place where you simply can't see any new marks on your door jamb, it's likely God wants to change things up for you. That doesn't necessarily mean God wants you to move to a new city. It definitely means He wants to move you into greater faith and reliance upon Him. When we get into a rut, we're not dependent upon Him. We've done it so many times and for so long, we practically go on auto pilot. We can do it in our sleep.

I can confidently report to you today that no matter where God's plan leads me in the future, the things that have happened in my life over the last 18 months have changed me and will be part of my life from here on. I see markings along my door jamb that show me I've made progress. The thing is, there's still lots of room for more growth.

I can't encourage you strongly enough. Don't get into a rut. It will suck the life right out of you. God wants to show you what you're capable of when you truly rely on Him for everything!

Get out that pencil!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I'll Be There

I have a little buddy named Will. I think he's about 7 or so. Great kid. Will is in a local youth basketball league, so I do my best to catch his games when I can. Recently, I got a text message from one of Will's family members asking if I was going to be at his game that afternoon, but I was out of town. They told me they understood, Will was just asking if I was going to be there. It was then that I made up my mind that I wouldn't miss his next game the following week no matter what.

The next week came, and the morning of his 3 PM game, I received a text message from an unfamiliar number. Will identified himself in the message, and asked if I was going to be at his game that afternoon. Not only did I affirm to him that I'd be there, I went a step further by confirming that I knew the time and location of the game.

As the game started, Will had scored 6 points in the first half. With each of his three baskets, Will would look up into the stands to make sure we all saw it, and also to see the excitement we had in celebrating his achievement.

I had such a great feeling knowing Will wanted me at his game. So much so that he took time to borrow someone's phone hours before his game, and texted me to see if I'd be there. Then the great feeling it was to make eye contact with him as I was applauding his successes and gesturing my pride with a big thumbs up. Will is not my son. He has a great family. I have no children. Those of you with kids know this feeling. To me, it's a rare treat.

As I replayed these events in my head later in the day, I thought about how much greater it must be to God when we take time to pray and invite His presence into our activities. When we invite Him, He already knows where to be and when. He plans on being with us, but still, His heart swells when His children invite Him. Then, as we go about our day, we can look to Him in our successes and failures, and He is there applauding our successes, and comforting us in our disappointments. 

I thank God that He gives me moments like these which give me a glimpse of His heart for me. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Link Love Sunday!

A fellow blogger friend of mine who lives in America's Hat, (aka Canada), has a new feature on his blog. It's called "Link Love Sunday". It's a great idea, so I'm not only participating, I'm also encouraging you to check out his blog.

Kevin is a pastor and hockey fan, so he's aces in my book. I think you'll find as you peruse his blog, Shooting The Breeze, he's got some great insight.

If you're a blogger and you'd like to participate in Link Love Sunday, simply click here.

Have a great day!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Be Yourself

There have been many times in my life when I really didn't like who I was. It's not that I had some crippling habits or that I grew up in a horrible situation or anything. There have just been times when I wished I wasn't the way I was. Those times usually came when I was feeling like an outcast in social settings where I wish I could have fit in better. But then something happened. I found that there were some people in my life who loved and accepted me exactly for who I was. Suddenly, I began to appreciate the very qualities I had once despised. 

We all have different facets to our personalities. Certain situations and people can bring out the extremes of who we are. I am a pretty laid back individual. I'm not a very demonstrative guy at all. But you get me on stage singing songs I love in front of hundreds or thousands of people, and something within me comes out that you won't see in your living room. 

On the other hand, people and situations can sometimes bring out the negatives. We sometimes say and do things we normally wouldn't. We're just not perfect. Anyone can be sweet and loving when things are going well. But when times get tough, when stress happens, do we change? Does another side of our personality come raging out of us?

These situations don't change who we are. They reveal who we are.

If you find yourself around situations or people which bring out your dark side, you need to make some adjustments. I found that when I filled my life with people who embraced me for who I am, my confidence grew. My ministry grew. I built relationships with people I admire. As a result, I found that I relaxed and settled in to being exactly who I am. I didn't stress out about trying to be someone I'm not just to fit in. When I turned that corner in my life, I found that the situations which had previously tripped me up had now become inconsequential to me. My circumstances no longer changed my attitude. My attitude changed my circumstances. 

God made me the way I am. I'm thankful for the gifts He has given me. Not a day goes by that I'm not challenged to take another step further in my personal development. I have people in my life who bring out my very best. I have people in my life who believe in me. I want to be the type of man who sees and brings out the very best in you.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

~Proverbs 27:17

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Time To Cross That River

I attended a bible study Monday night, and ever since then, I've been thinking a lot about Joshua in the bible. The speaker referenced Joshua chapter one, and I haven't been able to shake some of the truths found there and how they relate to me, and pretty much everyone I can think of.

Joshua was the heir apparent under Moses in leading God's people through extreme difficulties and to the Promised Land. On the eve of reaching their destination, Moses died. At this time, Joshua was promoted by God to be the one to lead His people into the Promised Land. In verses 2-5, God officially elevates Joshua to his new role, and gives him the list of benefits in taking the job. 

In verses 6-9, God lays out Joshua's job description. Three times in these verses, God commands Joshua to be "strong and courageous". One of those times, God emphasizes to Joshua to be "very courageous". Here's the thing, to get to the land God promised, Joshua would have to cross the mighty Jordan river. This wasn't some brook that you could just stroll across while just getting your ankles wet. It was a formidable obstacle. But when it came time to cross, they had to take the first step into the water for God to intervene and take care of the rest. As He did with the Red Sea, the water parted, and everyone was able to stroll across the river which was normally at flood stage since it was harvest season. 

This is harvest season for many of you. It is for me. It's when we're on the cusp of something huge that the waters between us and our dreams and goals are at their highest and most intimidating. But God repeats to you those plain and powerful words. Be strong and courageous. I'm telling you now, the river you have to cross isn't going to part for you without you taking the first step. You can't expect to reach the heights of God's promises before you plunge into the depths of your faith.

What river stands between you and your dreams? What obstacle is raging that seems too formidable for you to cross? Don't allow yourself to set up a permanent camp on the wrong side of the river. Don't get stuck looking across it to see where you could and should be.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Got It In Writing

My birthday was last week. I received many, many messages on Facebook, a couple nice meals, text messages, phone know. As wonderful as those messages were, and as much as they are appreciated, there is one written message I received that stands above them all.

As most any man will confirm, the greatest words we can ever hear can only come from a father. Those words are, "I'm proud of you." There is just something incredibly powerful about those words when they come from your dad. My dad is a wonderful man. He's my hero. Living up to his standards was pretty much an impossible dream. There were times he let me know it, and there were numerous other times when he didn't have to. I just knew it.

Out of respect for him and the precious personal gift of words he gave me, I won't share everything he wrote in my birthday card. Trust me, if I did, I probably wouldn't be able to complete this post. But I want to tell you that he finished what he said with those words I had never heard come from him in any form.

"I'm very proud of you."

It took 45 years to get those words from him. I have known for some time that he's been proud of the way I've turned out. I know I've disappointed him more times than can be counted. But I also know that despite my shortcomings and colossal failures, he sees in me a man in a desperate pursuit of God. 

As I sat back and bathed in the wonderful feelings of those words from him, I'm so thankful that he put them in writing. These words are hand written by the man I admire most in this world. I can revisit those words every single day for the rest of my life, even if that is long after he's enjoying his eternal reward.

I consider the swell of confidence and validation in those words from my dad, and I think that as wonderful and powerful as they are, they pale in comparison to the words God has put in writing for me...and for you. The bible is loaded with love notes from His heart to us. There are simply too many to list here, but I'll list a few which have sustained me through difficult times in my life. 
  • Jeremiah 29:11-13 has been a very special passage to me for 25 years.
  • Isaiah 40:28-31 I had never heard or read this verse until I heard it in a song many years ago. It has stuck with me ever since and reminded me of God's power that is available to me.
  • All of Psalm 139 Back in bible college, I sang a song called You Are There which really introduced me to this chapter. God knows me intimately, and loves me anyway! He isn't with me everywhere I go to make me feel guilty or to condemn me, but because He loves me and wants to be with me! Amazing!
  • All of Psalm 23. God surrounds me with such beauty, and walks with me through it all!
I could go on and on and on. The point is, God's love for me surrounds me. Even on the low days in my life, just like my dad's card to me, I can open up God's word and revisit the long list of verses which He put in writing to remind me of His love and devotion to me. Just like my dad's words, I'm simply overwhelmed.

What verses do you revisit when you just want to be reminded and overwhelmed by God's love for you?